In the wake of Hamas’ attack on Israeli civilians and Israel’s counter-attack on Gaza, both antisemitism and Islamophobia are on the rise in the U.S. and abroad. Some pro-Palestine groups have unfairly laid the blame for Hamas’ attack at Israel’s feet, framing the slaughter of civilians as “anti-colonial” pushback; some individuals have gone so far as to chant antisemitic slogans at rallies, including “Gas the Jews,” or by holding up images of swastikas. On the reverse side, people who have shown support for Palestinians have been doxxed or fired from jobs. American Palestinians, Muslims and other pro-Palestinian protesters have been attacked and threatened.
Unfortunately, some American politicians are feeding into the incendiary rhetoric, which can lead — and possibly already has led — to real life tragedy.
Donald Trump somehow managed to both stoke anti-Muslim sentiment and praise Iran-based terrorists in a 48-hour period. On Monday, Oct. 9, just two days after Hamas attacked Israel, Trump posted an entirely baseless lie suggesting Hamas militants were crossing into the U.S. via the southern border. Then that Wednesday, he turned around and said the Iran-based terrorist group Hezbollah, which has been threatening Israel’s northern border, was “very smart.”
His false — and widely repeated — claim about terrorists coming over the border is especially troubling. It feeds not only into the anti-Muslim sentiments that have pervaded the country since Sept. 11, 2001, but also unnecessarily escalates conflict over immigrants and immigration.
Presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis chartered flights for people fleeing Israel, then said that any refugees from Gaza should be barred entry, suggesting they couldn’t be trusted. His comments reflect a tendency to characterize — or, more accurately, villainize — all occupants of an area or all adherents of a belief system as exactly the same. But Hamas and its militant allies are not representative of all Palestinians, all Muslims or all Gazans, who are a mix of Muslims, Jews, Christians and more.
Such rhetoric can push already high tensions past the tipping point into violence.
A Republican New York City council member, who is Jewish, was arrested after showing up with a gun to a pro-Palestine protest. Also in New York, two people holding Palestinian flags were attacked; and two boys are being investigated for pointing fake guns at a Brooklyn synagogue.
Most disturbing was the vicious attack and murder of a 6-year-old American Palestinian boy by his family’s landlord in Illinois. The man entered his tenants’ apartment, shouting “You Muslims must die!” He choked and stabbed the boy’s mother, who survived her injuries, more than a dozen times and stabbed the little boy 26 times.
No class of people — be they Israeli or Palestinian, Muslim or Jewish — should be blamed for the actions of a few. Innocent civilians shouldn’t be denied human rights or humanitarian aid because they share a nationality or a religion with bad actors. Certainly, individuals living half a world away certainly shouldn’t be scapegoats for people’s frustrations.
Hate will not stop the violence. Neither will violence stop the hate.